Tens of Thousands are Missing From the War Two Years On, the Case for Assisting Ukraine Is Stronger than Ever

Photo Credit: Krysja

Marking the second anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the Commissioners and Director-General of the International Commission on Missing persons issued the following statement:

24 February 2024Tens of thousands of people have disappeared as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Men and women have gone missing on the battlefield and in the mass movement of citizens in the spring of 2022; civilians have disappeared in the rubble of towns fought over to the point of complete destruction; victims of arbitrary arrest in occupied territory are unaccounted for, and children have been illegally deported and adopted under opaque circumstances by families in Russia.

Ukraine has recognized that accounting for the missing is an essential part of upholding the rule of law. It has done this at a time when it is facing an existential threat. That the country is pursuing a law-based strategy to account for its missing citizens reflects the broader principle that underlines the case for continued support for Ukraine.

As we mark the second anniversary of the full-scale Russian invasion, the case for assisting Ukraine remains unchanged. Countries cannot attack their neighbors in order to pursue arbitrary territorial claims. And the case for helping Ukraine to account for those who have gone missing is equally compelling. To do so is a fundamental element in restoring the rule of law. It will be essential to Ukraine’s postwar recovery and it will be essential to the process of bringing those responsible for disappearances to justice.

Today, faced with massive strategic, administrative and financial challenges, Ukraine is developing procedures to collect, store and share information, excavate clandestine graves, identify human remains, and investigate individual missing persons cases, in such a way that evidence can be presented at future war crimes trials. It is pursuing a law-based approach to the issue explicitly and effectively, and by endeavoring to uphold the rights of its own citizens to truth and justice it is doing this on behalf of citizens beyond its own borders.

This is not a quixotic exercise but an intensely practical one. The authorities in Ukraine are organizing existing resources and expertise in a manner that will make it possible to maintain an effective missing persons process over the long term. It is imperative that international partners maintain their support for this process.

Accounting for large numbers of people who have gone missing requires coordination across institutions and ministries – it is a complex and demanding task, but it is by no means impossible.

Supported by the European Union and the governments of Canada, Germany, Norway, and the United States, the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) is now providing training and resources to Ukraine so that gaps can be filled. ICMP’s capacity to do this is further bolstered by the long-term support it has received from state parties, including the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Sweden and Luxembourg. The objective is to create a system that can establish the fate of missing adults and children, missing civilians and members of the military, and those who have gone missing inside Ukraine and in neighboring countries.

In the summer of 2023, ICMP published an analysis of the missing persons challenge facing Ukraine, and a description of the steps that have been taken and that still need to be taken in order to meet this challenge. A Country of Missing People describes technical, legislative and institutional measures that have been applied successfully in missing persons programs elsewhere in the world and explains how some of these could be applied in Ukraine. The book shows how establishing efficient coordination among multiple agencies is a difficult but necessary task; it examines how the work of family associations and CSOs can be supported and made more effective; and it shows in detail how an effective strategy can secure truth and justice for families of the missing and for society as a whole.

Many of the recommendations that ICMP has made to the Ukrainian authorities since 2014 have already been incorporated in measures to address the issue, including the Law on the Legal Status of Persons Gone Missing Under Special Circumstances.

The disciplined and targeted effort that is now underway will help Ukraine – and Europe – to assert in the most meaningful way the fundamental principle that might is not right, and that all states are subject to the rule of law. The assistance that has been provided to help the country account for tens of thousands of missing citizens has been effective and must continue.

  • Ambassador Knut Vollebaek (ICMP Chair)
  • H.M. Queen Noor
  • Ambassador Dirk Brengelmann
  • Ms. María Eugenia Brizuela de Ávila
  • Rt. Hon. Alistair Burt
  • Mr Rolf Ekeus
  • Ms. Thao Griffiths
  • Ms. Barbara Haering
  • Mr. Bert Koenders
  • Ambassador Thomas Miller
  • Judge Sanji M. Monageng
  • Kathryne Bomberger (ICMP Director-General)


About ICMP

ICMP is a treaty-based intergovernmental organization with Headquarters in The Hague, the Netherlands. Its mandate is to secure the cooperation of governments and others in locating and identifying missing persons from conflict, human rights abuses, disasters, organized crime, irregular migration and other causes and to assist them in doing so.